Legal Dancing

Legal Dancing
Almost there . . . !

There are times, I suppose, when the city of Amarillo pretends as if it’s acting in the best interests of the people who live here. I don’t particularly say the ‘tax payers’ because, good grief, this sounds terribly transactional and it doesn’t reflect the 10-year-old who is looking forward to paying off a long-term debt as an older ‘tax payer.’ Regardless, let’s just settle on citizen because it sounds very Jeffersonian, vaguely patriotic, and aptly descriptive.

This time acting in “best interests” is about the city’s legal intimidation tactic about the current Civic Center lawsuit. To put it simply, the city filed a motion in court asking for a six million dollar guarantee (in this case a bond) from Alex Fairly, who’s suing the city. The idea is that the lawsuit will delay construction, which will make everything cost more, so the city wants to make sure that extra premium comes from Alex Fairly and not from citizens.

Citizens! They’re looking out for you!

Legal wrangling notwithstanding, this is a policy issue. The city decided to use a bit of muscle to be scary and hopefully derail the lawsuit. But it’s bad policy. If we wanted a true and honest legal assessment of the city’s plan to use these tax notes to fund the civic center and protect whatever perceived increases in possible construction expenses, then stipulate a condition on the expenditure. What I mean is, just say, if we win we won’t spend anything until inflation, expenses, whatever is at some pre-defined level. This is a policy discussion.

The trouble is the city council isn’t interested in a genuine discussion on the merits.

(Oh, I know, I just know, people will snort at the idea of having a honest conversation about all this. The trouble is the city has now lost legitimacy as a steward of open discussion. Perhaps though it’s never really had it - I mean actively discouraging public comment on decisions, arguing, and then clamping down real questions has a way of souring even the best intentions.)

I had someone tell me recently the city found a way to fund the civic center so shut up about it because even though voters rejected the civic center bonds twice now, they only rejected the bond. They didn’t reject the civic center.

This is a great example of arguing in bad faith. Yes, correct, voters rejected the bond and not the idea of a civic center. But they rejected paying for the civic center.  And the city’s current plan is just a different way of paying that will be identical to what the rejected bond would have done: increase property tax rates significantly.

Then the second argument went like this: well, only one or five or 12 or 21 percent of people voted it down (the number seems to always change in this argument).  That’s not everyone. So how dare that tiny group of cave people determine what's best for Amarillo?

Silly person, that’s what elections are. If only two people show up and vote and everyone else stays home, two people get to decide.

You can make the same argument whether the mayor is illegitimately in office because only one or five or 12 or 21 percent of people voted in the last city election.

If the city council wants to replace the civic center, then make the pitch again. And again. And again.

Again, this isn't about the merits of a civic center. It's about shenanigans.

The sideshow continues. In other news:

There aren’t enough people to run the trash trucks so the city is cutting back on emptying dumpsters.

I know exactly how these policy conversations go. I was in a big one when we gave city employees their first significant raise in years (geez, that sounded dangerously  politiciany). They work this this: “Man, we don’t have people. I wish we could pay them more but we don’t have money in the budget. What do we do? Cut high paid staff salaries to make up the shortfall? Nah, we’ll just cut services, ‘cause, you know, money.”

There are market pressures the drive salaries and benefits. The city isn’t except from these kinds of things. There are solutions.

By the way, San Antonio’s City Manager’s salary is $320,153.

Amarillo’s City Manager’s salary is $323,736.